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Investors undeterred by US inflation surge

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Local and global equity markets were flat to slightly higher this week as investors looked through near-term inflation concerns. 

In local stock news, National Australia Bank, Crown Resorts, SkyCity, and Star Entertainment all found themselves in the ire of AUSTRAC as the regulator claims to have found serious problems in how these companies try to prevent financial crimes. 

Electronics design software vendor Altium jumped almost 40% after their board rejected a takeover offer from US software group Autodesk. The news helped lift Australian tech shares during the week. 

Woolworths’ takeover of food distributor PFD Food Services will go ahead despite the competitors’ concerns in the space. The competition regulator has allowed Woolworths to buy 65% of the shares in PFD, which delivers food to cafes, restaurants, hotels, clubs, and more, for $552m. 

Mortgage Choice shareholders have voted to accept a takeover bid from REA (realestate.com) at $1.95 per share, valuing the company at $244 million. Court and other approvals are still required. 
Australian new housing-related lending lifted by 3.7% in April to a new record high, with lending to owner-occupiers rising strongly to 4.3% while lending to investors was up 2.1%. Lending to first home buyers has now fallen for 3 consecutive months, likely due to affordability. Lending in NSW, VIC, and SA were the strongest in the month, whilst both WA and TAS posted falls. 

Australian business leaders reported great trading conditions in May, with the business conditions index reaching a new high for the 2nd consecutive month. 

The Australian government and the Australian banks received an upgrade from credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s with their outlook now considered to be stable. 

US consumer prices soared again with a 5% rise in May on the same time last year, pushing the inflation rate to a 13-year high. The May number came in well above expectations. The 3.8% rise in the core inflation rate, which excludes food and energy prices, was the sharpest increase in nearly 30 years. The US central bank remaining firm that price pressures will wane soon enough. 

The US economy added 559,000 jobs in May, coming in below expectations, but which helped push the unemployment rate down to 5.8%, whilst average wages surged for the 2nd consecutive month in light of severe labour shortages. Reports of employers paying job applicants just to attend the interview….the perverse result of government stimulus gone wrong – more than 12 million receiving unemployment assistance with almost 8 million job openings!

The European central bank confirmed its very accommodative monetary policy stance with interest rates unchanged at 0% given inflation remains well under target. The Bank also confirmed that their quantitative easing programs will continue at the current pace until at least the end of March 2022. 

The Chinese consumer price index rose 1.3% in May, which was less than expected. However, the Chinese revealed that their factory gate prices increased at the fastest pace since September 2008, which is a strong indicator of rising inflationary pressures. 
The Chinese Communist Party now believes it can wean itself off Australia’s resources by rapidly expanding its scrap steel recycling industry. They claim that by using the latest technology it can cut our iron ore exports to them in half in the next 10 years. Ambitious, but hardly surprising given the sky-high prices they’ve been paying for iron ore of late and at a time when Australia-China relations are almost non-existent. 

US President Biden has pitched to Republicans and the G7 the idea of a 15% minimum tax on corporations along with strengthened enforcement efforts. The proposal sets aside the Biden administration’s earlier plan to raise the US corporate tax rate to 28%, which they have no chance getting through the Senate. Doubtful the G7 ever physically puts in place a global corporate tax. A slippery slope once enacted. But we are likely to see some moves on the digital tax front (historically led by Australia), even though the Chancellor of the City of London is already calling for London’s exemption….

The US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen (ex-US central bank chair) has urged other “rich” nations to keep up spending to support their economies even as pandemic wanes, insisting that US inflation would be elevated but transitory….likely, but not if you maintain emergency level spending indefinitely when there is no emergency! Yellen insisted that more spending was needed to fight against climate change and inequality (so it’s not about the pandemic then). In contrast, the joint statement by the G7 finance minister also stressed the need to ensure long-term sustainability of public finances. 

The US and the EU are now backing a “renewed” push into investigating the origins of Covid-19. “Renewed” is incorrect terminology given there was effectively no investigation into the origins in the first place. Apathy to the origins of the virus have been mind-blowing. The source of the virus matters, both from an accountability perspective and the prevention of future pandemics. Both are calling for more transparency from China, which is unlikely to happen. 

The European Union is said to be ready to consider tougher retaliatory measures against the UK should post Brexit obligations regarding Northern Ireland not be implemented.  

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